Follow Your Heart: Moving with the Giants of Jazz, Swing, and Rhythm and Blues

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Detailing the fascinating career of Joe Evans, Follow Your Heart chronicles the nearly thirty years that he spent immersed in one of the most exciting times in African American music history. An alto saxophonist who between 1939 and 1965 performed with some of America's greatest musicians, including Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Charlie Parker, Jay McShann, Andy Kirk, Billie Holiday, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Lionel Hampton, and Ivory Joe Hunter, Evans warmly recounts his wide range of experience in the music industry. Readers follow Evans from Pensacola, Florida, where he first learned to play, to such exotic destinations as Tel Aviv and Paris, which he visited while on tour with Lionel Hampton. Evans also comments on popular New York City venues used for shaping and producing black music, such as the Apollo Theater, the Savoy, Minton's Playhouse, and the Rhythm Club.

Revealing Evans as a master storyteller, Follow Your Heart describes his stints as a music executive, entrepreneur, and musician. Evans provides rich descriptions of jazz, swing, and rhythm and blues culture by highlighting his experiences promoting tracks to radio deejays under Ray Charles's Tangerine label and later writing, arranging, and producing hits for the Manhattans and the Pretenders. Leading numerous musical ventures that included a publishing company and several labels—Cee Jay Records (with Jack Rags), Revival, and Carnival Records—Evans remained active in the music industry even after he stopped performing regularly. As one of the few who enjoyed success as both performer and entrepreneur, he offers invaluable insight into race relations within the industry, the development of African American music and society from the 1920s to 1970s, and the music scene of the era.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“For every Armstrong or Ellington or Charlie Parker, there were countless musicians, their names unknown even to jazz fans, whose skill gave jazz the solid foundation it needed. In Follow Your Heart, jazz journeyman Joe Evans, now in his 90s, presents the story of the sideman, the unsung hero of the golden age of jazz, someone who could read music, learn new tunes quickly, take solos if necessary and swing all the time. . . . Thank you, Mr. Evans, not just for the music you made, but for the man you are.”—The Washington Times

"Saxophonist Joe Evans' uncanny memory of his six-plus decades working alongside the legends and lesser-known heroes of jazz and R&B would be enough to make Follow Your Heart essential reading for serious students of American popular music. But this book does more than collect personal tales from an earlier cultural era. Evans crafts a funny, heartbreaking, and insightful account of living through the violence of Jim Crow segregation, shady business dealings, and the hazards of life on the road."—Aaron Cohen, Associate Editor, DownBeat

"One of the best autobiographies that I have read in many years. Cleverly constructed and extremely well written, this phenomenal book gives a unique perspective into American music history through the challenges, trials, and accomplishments of one of the most underappreciated giants of the American music scene."—Emmett G. Price III, author of Hip Hop Culture

"A personal, first-hand account of the many luminaries of black music whom Evans encountered during his lifetime. Through its thick, invaluable descriptions of jazz culture, Follow Your Heart is loaded with important occurrences in the development of African American music—namely jazz and rhythm and blues—from the 1920s throughout the 1970s."—Cheryl L. Keyes, author of Rap Music and Street Consciousness

School Library Journal

With Brooks (coauthor of Shirley Verrett's autobiography, I Never Walked Alone), Evans here recounts his career as alto saxophonist for many of the most important African American musicians of the jazz, swing, and rhythm and blues eras of the early to mid-20th century. Active between 1939 and 1965, Evans played for such performers as Billie Holiday, Lionel Hampton, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, and Cab Calloway, and he recounts his performances and travels from Pensacola, FL, where he learned to play, to later tours with Lionel Hampton in Paris and Tel Aviv. Telling his story, Evans draws the reader into the lives, venues, destinations, and experiences of this musical time period. He also describes his role as a music executive and entrepreneur after his performing career under Ray Charles's Tangerine label. Including many rare and historical photographs and forewords by Tavis Smiley and Bill McFarlin (executive director, International Association of Jazz Educators), this is appropriate for any public or academic library.
—Bradford Lee Eden

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Reviews
Charming, straightforward autobiography of one of the great, unheralded figures in jazz and R&B. A well-respected saxophonist for Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker and Lionel Hampton, among others, Evans enjoyed a reputation for dependable, no-nonsense craftsmanship that provided him with a steady career remarkable for its longevity. (And flexibility: When the music business no longer provided enough of a living, he went to college and got a graduate degree at age 58 in 1974, then took a civil-service job with the state of New Jersey.) From his youth in the middle-class African-American neighborhoods of Pensacola, Fla., to his gigs in the house bands of New York's Apollo Theater and Savoy Ballroom, to the creation of his own record label in the 1960s, Evans's story serves as a history of American popular music and of the African-American experience during the mid-20th century. In many ways, his book provides a fitting counterbalance to the slew of tempestuous musical biographies that recount familiar tales of meteoric rises and tragic falls. While he kept his distance from the poor choices made by many better-known artists, Evans remained close enough to see the toll taken by alcohol and heroin on such colleagues as Holiday and Parker, both of whom he recalls with great respect and fondness. The lives of such figures have been mythologized elsewhere, but Evans gives the reader a fresh look at legends like Hampton and Armstrong, depicting them as working musicians rather than romanticized historical figures. His narrative is brought forth clearly and pleasurably, although perhaps too simplistically, by admiring coauthor Brooks (African American Studies andAnthropology/Virginia Commonwealth Univ.). Lightweight forewords by Tavis Smiley and Bill McFarlin trade in adulatory superlatives that would probably embarrass their modest, down-to-earth subject. With the grace and directness of a beloved grandparent, Evans captures both the rarified and mundane aspects of a life in music.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780252033032
  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press
  • Publication date: 3/7/2008
  • Series: African Amer Music in Global Perspective Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 200
  • Product dimensions: 6.26 (w) x 9.13 (h) x 0.76 (d)

Meet the Author

Christopher Brooks is a professor of African American studies and anthropology at Virginia Commonwealth University. He coauthored Shirley Verrett's bestselling autobiography, I Never Walked Alone.

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Table of Contents

Foreword   Tavis Smiley     vii
Foreword   Bill McFarlin     ix
Preface     xi
Acknowledgments     xiii
Part 1
Pensacola Blues     3
Music Crazy     12
Boy Meets Band     20
"Ma" Rainey's Deep South     32
Part 2
New York, New York     43
Hootie and the Bird     56
The Big, Big Bands     66
Call Me "Italy"     80
The End of an Era     89
Part 3
The Rhythm and Blues Scene     103
The Rise of Carnival Records     114
After the Manhattans     135
Epilogue: Long Good-byes     147
Discography     153
Index     156
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